The history of Ford is the history of the industrial revolution and of American prosperity during the 20th century. A giant in the industry, Ford continues to make competitive and reliable cars for an ever-changing world.
The early days
Henry Ford (1863-1947), along with 11 other investors, incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903 with the intention of manufacturing 650 automobiles. He contracted out most of the components and assembled the cars in a rented Detroit, Mich., work space. John and Horace Dodge, who would soon found their own automobile company, made the chassis. Barely staying ahead of creditors, the company managed to produce and sell all 650 cars, and made American automobile history.
The Model T
The Ford Motor Company hit its stride in 1908 with the introduction of the Model T. During its first full year of production, 18,000 cars were built. Demand became so high for the sturdy, affordable vehicles that in 1911 a new, larger production facility was procured in Highland Park. During that year of production, 69,762 cars were assembled. That number continued to rise each year.
The moving assembly line
By 1913 Ford had developed the first moving assembly line, greatly decreasing the amount of time it took to assemble each vehicle. That innovation allowed Ford to fulfill the continuing demand for his Model T and became a model of efficiency soon adopted by the rest of the automobile industry.
Raising the working man's standard
Working conditions were hard at the Highland Park plant as demand continued to grow. Turnover became a problem and it became increasingly difficult to keep workers content at $2.34 for a nine-hour day. In 1914, Ford began offering his workers $5 for an eight-hour shift. Many of those workers continued to earn a good living throughout the Great Depression.
A need to innovate
Ford, who was famously quoted as saying his customers could have a Model T in any color they chose as long as that color was black, was innovative in production, but not with his car. His unwillingness to incorporate new innovations into the Model T finally allowed other automakers -- most notably Chevrolet -- to squeeze the company out of its top place in the market by the late 1920s. Finally, it was clear that Ford had to change with the times.
Production of the Model T officially ended in 1927, with an astonishing total of 15,458,781 vehicles being produced.
The war years
In 1941 Ford retooled for the war effort. The company began producing general purpose vehicles, or "Jeeps," to be used by the American armed services. In 1945, the company resumed manufacturing it as a consumer vehicle. By 1988, Ford's worldwide earnings were $5.3 billion, the highest of any automaker up to that time.
A lesson learned
Having learned its lesson early on, Ford has continued to innovate and respond to the needs of its customers. In 1993, the company made it first foray into a more environmentally friendly ethanol-burning vehicle. In 1997 it started making taxicabs that run on natural gas.
Now it remains competitive in the electric-powered vehicle market, as well as offering consumers an impressive, competitive and popular array of internal combustion cars and trucks.